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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

24 May, 2009

Writer's Lag

You know after you have travelled anywhere, no matter what means of travel you use, and the plane, train, bus, whatever arrives at the station. You get that sense of relief and you stretch and feel really, really great, for about two seconds. Then you realise you still have to get a taxi or whatever to take you that final part of the journey and you really just want to curl up with a good book and go to sleep.

Writer's lag is very similar.

You've spent however long writing that first draft. You have laboured over word choices (buying the ticket), been stalled at times (similar to delays at customs), you've been distracted by life events (turbulence), been interrupted by friends who are well meaning and you can't actually be upset with them because they just want you to get away from the computer for an hour or two (that would be the well-meaning lady sitting beside you who just wants to show you pictures of her cats), and so on. The journey has been exhilarating, and draining, and amazing, and wonderful, and exhausting and frustrating, and all of those other things that journeys are, whether they involve writing or travelling or anything else.

You have finished. Hooray!

Now you have to edit. Please, no!

It is one definite way to take the thrill out of finishing that first draft and leaving you feel like you have writer's lag. This is particularly an issue for me at the moment, because I am barely one chapter and an afterward away from finishing my third MS and I find myself delaying, because I don't want to feel the pressure to start editing.

At the moment, it is all happy, happy, happy. I have done the work, put in the hours. The manuscript is nearly done. If I printed now it would be pages and pages of pretty printed text telling a fascinating story.

But already I know that there are unnecessary scenes. There is a particular piece of dialogue that I know I want to erase from existence. There is a scene that I skipped over entirely, but I've referred to it later in the text, so I kind of need to write it. One character has really just plain ticked me off and so I'm planning a rewrite in the early stages to remove them. I already know this and I haven't even done the first read through. That will find at least twenty other major changes that I want to make - not to mention the typos, unnecessary repetitions, and meaningless description that will probably be found.

Do I really want to finish my MS just to tear it a part?

Well, yes, because I would like to have a finished manuscript that is starting to get towards a publishable state rather than a first draft that remains a first draft forever.

I will finish the first draft. Hopefully today, maybe tomorrow. I will work through my lack of enthusiasm for the next stage and get to the absolute giddy-glee that accompanies putting the final full-stop on a story. I will relish in that emotion for a few days and use the time to read a friends MS for them, and get on with my day job and all those other things I need to do. Then I will sit down and begin the first edit. It always goes easier if I pretend I'm editing someone else's work. I'm far more likely to actually be critical of my own work then. I'll still miss things and ask a few others to help me out by reading this and that for me.

Finally, I'll have a dot point list, with page references, of all the changes that need to be made and I'll start working through it. When I get to the end of that, I will have another minor celebration before printing and editing again. Eventually, I may have produced something that I'm ready to share with the world.

I will finish. I just have to keep reminding myself that no matter how I'm feeling, I will feel so much better when it is done.

To all the writers out there - if you know a cure for writer's lag, or possibly even fear of the anticipation of writer's lag, share it with us.


  1. I like the comparison of writing to a physical journey. It is a long journey, but a wonderful one. When you finish the manuscript don't rush right in to the edits. Let the book sit for a couple weeks at least then start with fresh eyes. You will have a better editing result if you give yourself a little space and review it with refreshed eyes. Good luck!


  2. I've come to see revision as the writer's greatest ally. Knowing I'll be revising allows me to write freely and smoothly, without stalling to worry about details or word choice, and without self-censorship or second guessing.

    The actual revision process, rather than feeling like a chore after the fun part is done, becomes an opportunity. Since you know the whole story intimately at this point, you can perfect the reader's experience of it by dropping in foreshadowing, cleaning away digression, and perfecting the rhythm and mood progression.

    In your analogy, it's like taking a trip for a second time, but knowing all the ins and outs: the best place to eat, what to pack, shortcuts through the town.

    The first draft is a trailblazing expedition into the unknown, revision is the guided tour of all the choice spots. Each delights in its own way.

  3. I've been writing for a mere three years and have so much to learn. What I've read in the two earlier replies to your post sounds like knowledgeable advice.

    Letting your MS sit for a while before editing and then viewing the editing process as an opportunity to polish it rather than seeing it as a chore, seems smart from my angle.

    (Easy for me to say, right!)

  4. Isn't it ironic? We race and race to finish the first draft - and then we're devastated that it's over. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I've learned to utilize that urge to "get it right the first time." I rewrite extensively *as* I'm writing the first draft, so by the time I type "the end," the manuscript usually isn't in need of any major overhauls. "Usually" being the operative word. ;)

  5. Tragically I am still stuck in writer's lag mode. Must move on soon.